You Can Avoid Credit Calamity

You Can Avoid Credit Calamity

As a way to manage finances, many consumers opt for medical coverage with high deductibles. While the reduced expense of lower insurance premiums helps to maintain a balanced budget, the financial drain of covering costly deductibles and co-pays in a medical crisis could quickly exhaust a savings account. We don’t always have the luxury of time to plan for large medical expenses; it is often under emergency circumstances, when we’re least prepared, that unexpected and costly hospitalization occurs. The outcome is an outstanding balance which must be paid, however, don’t reach for a credit card. At times like this, when figuring out ways to pay medical debt, it’s helpful to have insight into the medical billing process and its impact on personal credit.

Medical Debt Difference

There have been some recent changes in the way medical debt is reported which in turn, affect how personal credit and credit scores are impacted. First, a required waiting period must be exhausted before medical debt can be reported to a credit agency. A regulation requires Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian to wait 180 days (six months) before an unpaid medical expense can be added to a credit report. Additionally, medical debt is often turned over to a collection agency and, provided the debt is paid in full, the collection agency debt is not included in a personal credit report. This explains why using a credit card to help with hospital bills is not practical. Not only is it advisable to avoid high credit card interest, but more importantly, the special consideration given to medical debt could not be applied.

Worth the Risk?

            Allowing medical debt to remain unpaid is a risky proposition, but according to a June 2018 Consumer Reports article, “nearly 3 in 10 insured Americans had an unpaid medical debt sent to [a] collection agency.” When a medical debt appears on a credit report, the negative effect on a personal credit score can be financially harmful. As a means to manage consumer loan risk, lenders rely on credit scores to predict whether an individual is financially accountable. A low credit score could result in preventing or impacting a financial transaction such as obtaining a new credit card, purchasing a car, or applying for a mortgage. Additionally, landlords and potential employers run credit checks and unfavorable scores could impede getting a new home or even a new job.

A low credit score can also come with a higher price tag. Individuals with poor credit are typically charged a higher interest rate if credit is approved. As reported by the Consumer Federation of America, a new car loan, for example, could add an extra $5,000.00 in interest for someone with a low credit score compared to someone with a higher score. A good credit score would lead not just to obtaining a loan, but also to securing a more favorable rate on a loan. Reducing debt and improving a low score also take time, possibly up to two years, or even longer depending on the type of debt involved.

Plan to Pay

Medical expenses have the potential of growing into large sums since billing charges can include hospitalization, out-of-network bills, doctors’ fees, diagnostic tests, and surgical procedures to name a few. It is a good idea to contact healthcare and insurance providers to verify amounts owed and assess the ability to pay. By making a habit of tracking medical expenses, a person is less likely to overlook any financial obligations and run the risk of compiling unmanageable medical debt. In cases where the amount of debt is overwhelming, even after insurance is applied, medical billing resolution specialists like Human Health Advocates can be consulted to assist with negotiating payment.

Human Health Advocates, LLC, located in Boca Raton Florida, serves clients both statewide and throughout the nation. It is a very highly reviewed entity and affiliated with the Better Business Bureau. Its members are Board-Certified Patient Advocates who specialize in medical debt reduction. If you are having difficulty understanding or managing your medical bills and/or health insurance Explanation of Benefits (EOB’s), reach out…..get help…..contact one of our Board-Certified Patient Advocates. We review medical bills and health insurance determinations to locate errors in providers’ charges and processing.  We prepare insurance appeals for denied claims. We negotiate reductions in your medical debt from hospitals and other medical providers. If you have problems with your medical bills or health insurance, get in touch. WE CAN HELP!

 

By Human Health Advocates

Hospital Fee Transparency More Cloudy Than Clear

Hospital Fee Transparency More Cloudy Than Clear

In the spirit of protecting patients, hospitals began posting their list of charges online in January 2019 (per the Public Health Service Act enacted by the Affordable Care Act). Sounds like a simple thing to do, but consider the numerous services and items hospitals provide: diagnostic procedures, physician consultations, surgeries, treatments, medication, and supplies, to name a few. It gets even more complicated when the scope of difficulty or duration of a surgical procedure or treatment is factored into the equation. Also, there are great variations between various hospital’s pricing—some may charge double what the others do for the same procedure. Imagine how this can affect the ability to have a good understanding of hospital bills. It is this issue, the disparity in hospital pricing, and a lack of desire to make charges known to the public before rather than after treatment which causes confusion surrounding hospital fee transparency and problems for the average consumer. Creating greater awareness of the issues about hospital pricing transparency could help individuals minimize or avoid unnecessary serious financial repercussions.

            Hospital fee transparency is meant to help consumers calculate medical costs to assess a treatment’s affordability. Sounds great in principle, but is it feasible in practice? Would you know what is needed in a surgical procedure and hospital stay? Most likely, you would not know. So how is the average consumer expected to calculate an approximate cost based upon reviewing a list of hospital fees? A hospital price list, known as a “Chargemaster,” can be as short as four pages, but more likely several hundred. On top of this, the information is often not alphabetized or categorized by subject. Some hospitals even use codes which are indecipherable to anyone but themselves. While the list of charges is meant to educate, more often than not, it is a confusing mess. Essentially, a Federal statute was passed—and hospitals complied. However, the statute neglected to mandate posting the information in a manner that is comprehensible by the patient. So, while there are Chargemaster posted, they are essentially useless—as the information they contain is not decipherable.

Advocates of fee transparency comment that the program is new and can be seen as a step towards informing consumers. However, according to a February 15, 2019, article in the Florida Phoenix: “Hospitals have some leeway in deciding how to present the information — and currently there is no penalty for failing to post.”

            With the mid-year mark having passed since the mandated public disclosure, it is possible to analyze the information being provided by hospitals. In its July 2019 issue, The National Law Review raised some problematic issues about the information released by medical facilities:

  • Patient specific variability affecting cost is not included
  • Variances in health plan coverage costs and out-of-pocket expenses and out-of-network bills are not provided
  • Nonexistence of requirements specifying how to format data for public consumption

 

            The success of hospital fee transparency is not just a matter of providing the consumer with clear and concise information, it is also about accomplishing specific goals. The New England of Journal Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst explored the topic of price transparency last year in an article which posited that the efficacy of price transparency depends on the success of meeting the following four goals:

  • Help patients make informed decisions;
  • Enable comparative price shopping;
  • Facilitate affordable care; and
  • Create pressure to reduce pricing.

 

                While the value of posting hospital fees online (in the current manner) is questionable, given the complexity of the pricing, it does expose the random variability and exorbitant differences in pricing among medical facilities. The embarrassment over these disparities could serve as a catalyst for change and motivate some institutions to reconsider their fee structure. Then again, one cannot shame the shameless into doing the right thing. The more light shone on this cloaked pricing information, the greater the benefit to the public. Many have called for further legislation concerning the form and manner in which such information is posted. This could then begin some momentum towards positive healthcare reform in pricing which might stimulate further useful change.

Human Health Advocates, LLC, located in Boca Raton Florida, serves clients both statewide and throughout the nation. It is a very highly reviewed entity, affiliated with the Better Business Bureau. Its members are Board-Certified Patient Advocates; specializing in medical debt reduction. If you are having difficulty understanding or managing your medical bills and/or health insurance Explanation of Benefits (EOB’s), reach out…..get help…..contact one of our Board-Certified Patient Advocates at Human Health Advocates. We review medical bills and health insurance determinations, locating errors in providers’ charges and processing.  We prepare insurance appeals for denied claims. We negotiate reductions in your medical debt from hospitals and other medical providers. If you have problems with your medical bills or health insurance, get in touch. WE CAN HELP!

By Guest Blogger: Mary Ann Mace

You Can Fight Facility Fees

You Can Fight Facility Fees

Lawmakers have placed pressure on healthcare providers and institutions for transparency with medical fees, however, the information posted online by hospitals is difficult to understand. Assessing an approximate cost for procedures, treatment, and hospital stays remains guesswork, which makes it difficult for consumers to calculate medical expenses in advance. For the time being, consumers might only be left with a defensive strategy as it concerns fighting facility fees.  

How can consumers combat against inflated hospital and physician costs? In a June 2019 Consumer Reports article, there is a choice of actions you could take either before or after incurring facility fees, and it could prove helpful to you:

Medical

Primary Care Doctor: We are all tasked with managing our own healthcare and can no longer expect our doctors to do this for us. However, developing a relationship with your doctor remains an important part of your self-care. This way, it becomes easier for you to ask some of the difficult questions unrelated to treatment. Schedule appointments often, especially if you take medication, and the next time you schedule an appointment, ask the front desk if the practice charges a facility fee. If so, get information on fee structure. Remember, it’s your money and you have the right to know where your dollars go.

Diagnostic Services/Specialists: It’s no secret doctors have a network of other physicians and diagnostic centers they refer to their patients. It’s a lot easier for your doctor to provide a name of a preferred provider he or she has used for years than to look up someone new. Plus, it’s human nature to refer a patient to a resource that has some commonalities. So, if your doctor is associated with a medical center or healthcare services-owned facility, chances are the referral will be too. You’ll need to do your homework and find out the referral’s facility fee, if there is one.

As an added note, in the 2019 article from Consumer Reports, hospitals were mandated in 2016 to notify patients if their doctor, or outpatient facility, had changed ownership to a hospital. Estimated facility fees were also supposed to have been included in these notices. Keep this in mind when speaking with your doctor’s office.

Additionally, you can conduct your own online search if you want to inquire about hospital fees, hospital facility fees, or facility fees. In your browser, type the name of the relevant hospital followed by the keywords “chargemaster” or “billing.” This may help with your hospital bills.

Insurance

Insurance Provider: Uncovering whether there is a facility fee and verifying it’s covered by your insurance provider are two different things. If you’re able to uncover the facility fee charge, then contact your medical insurance provider and ask if the excess fee is covered by your policy. If it is, confirm the amount the policy will reimburse. It might even be worthwhile for you to have a conversation with your insurance provider in advance of any medical care. This way, if you decide to change doctors because of facility fee practices, better to do this in advance of any treatment.

Negotiation: If you find yourself in a situation where you require immediate care and incur facility fees, then you might be able to negotiate the fee with the healthcare provider. Even suggest their waiving the expense, but if this isn’t possible, discuss reducing the amount. As well, you can negotiate with your insurance provider regarding their coverage of the charge. If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating fees, you could consider turning to the services of a medical billing advocate to help you.

Appeal: Additionally, you have the right to appeal an insurance decision. The appeal process can be lengthy and complicated. While you can manage your own appeals, retaining an advocate with medical debt specialization could be advantageous to you. Specialists like Human Health Advocates could not only relieve you of the stress of an appeal, but also offer negotiation expertise.

Keep in mind it’s your decision whether or not to proceed with specific medical care, and you have a choice with where you receive your treatment. Electing whether to proceed with recommended care or go to another provider is your decision. Knowing in advance about any additional costs you might incur can help you to plan financially.

Are you ready to fight facility fees? Contact Human Health Advocates today for a free consultation.

By Guest Blogger: Mary Ann Mace

DON’T LET FACILITY FEES SURPRISE YOU

DON’T LET FACILITY FEES SURPRISE YOU

The next time you’re at your doctor’s office, make sure to request an itemized bill when you leave. Why? You’ll want to scrutinize your doctor’s bill to check for “facility fees,” excess charges which have now become a common practice. The high cost of medical care is common knowledge, but not much has been discussed about facility fee charges which can add hundreds and, possibly, thousands to your doctor’s bill.

Facility fees are the result of hospital-based healthcare organizations purchasing doctors’ practices and outpatient centers. This transforms previously privately-owned entities into employees and hospital-owned treatment centers. So, as a result, when a medical practice is purchased by a healthcare organization, a $500 treatment, formerly performed by a private practitioner for example, could multiply to $1,500, $3,000, or more. So, where can you expect to find facility fee charges? Individual physicians’ offices for one as well as outpatient surgery centers, urgent care centers, and outpatient medical centers.

How to fight facility fees? One of the best ways to fight against facility fees is information. Inquiring about facility fee charges before you get treatment at your doctor’s office or at an outpatient center is one recommendation. Another way to protect yourself against facility fees is with the guidance of a medical billing advocate who can help you with hospital bills. Advocacy firms like Human Health Advocates, which specialize in medical debt reduction, through bill review and reconciliation, insurance appeals, and negotiation, etc., can be among your best resources for assistance in obtaining reductions in your medical debt.

FACILITY FEES CYCLE

Getting sucked into a situation where you could be charged a facility fee can happen unexpectedly through the doctor referral process. If your primary care physician is an employee of a hospital, and you need an MRI, you would be referred to an orthopedist who is a practitioner at a hospital-owned facility. Your MRI would then be performed through the hospital’s imaging services. If surgery is needed, the procedure could be scheduled at a surgical center the hospital owns. All related costs would all be subject to facility fees, which could greatly increase your out of pocket expenses. So, from an estimated $5,000, if treatments had been performed by independent practitioners, fees could soar up to as much as $35,000. On top of this, private insurers might not be willing to pay the added-on expenses.

Don’t Let This Happen to You

Examples of inflated pricing through facility fee charges were reported by publications as early as 2014. One of these appeared in an article presented by The Center for Public Integrity which recounted the following experiences:

  • A surgical center in Iowa City charged $25,872 for the removal of three polyps during a 45-minute stay.
  • In Davie, Florida, a $275 facility fee was added to a $233 doctor bill for the treatment of a dog bite. The 8-year-old girl had received antibiotic gel and a bandage.

Another example documenting the inflated pricing of facility fees appeared recently in a June 2019 Consumer Reports article which reported:

  • A Los Angeles hospital added a $1,300 hospital operating fee for a patient who had received an exam, X-ray, and cortisone injection for a 30-minute doctor appointment

These cases indicate vigilance is needed to avoid these types of fees or a fight against them when they do occur. With only one-third of U.S. doctors categorized as having private practices, that leaves the balance of medical practitioners as employees of hospital-based healthcare organizations. It’s likely many of us will need to know how to fight against facility fees. The next issue of our blog will feature some recommendations which could be useful in minimizing or eliminating some of the surplus cost – saving you hundreds and maybe even thousands of dollars.

Do you feel you have been a victim of inflated pricing? Contact Human Health Advocates today for a free consultation.

By Guest Blogger: Mary Ann Mace

Don’t Pay A Medical Bill Until You Do These 6 Things

Don’t Pay A Medical Bill Until You Do These 6 Things

Medical bills are an inevitable expense and often times patients are ripped off because of mistakes or errors in the bill itself which they failed to recognize beforehand. It is estimated that more than 80% of medical bills contain errors. Additionally, health insurers routinely deny claims erroneously. This only adds to the confusion when trying to decipher your medical bills, explanation of benefits (EOB’s), and how much you should pay your health care provider. However, there are some steps you can take in order to avoid paying a hefty medical bill that you don’t fully understand.

  1. CHECK YOUR INFORMATION

There are many billing errors that occur due to a slight clerical error entered on the claim form submitted to your health insurance company. Even if there is one digit missing from your insurance ID number or your name is misspelled, it can result in your claim being denied- and you being billed prematurely. Many times, claims are submitted to the incorrect insurance carrier. To avoid the hassle, make sure your insurance information on the bill is correct and that the bill has been processed by your insurance company.

  1. COMPARE THE INVOICE TO YOUR INSURANCE EXPLANATION OF BENEFITS (EOB)

When claims are processed by your health insurance company you should receive a statement called an Explanation of Benefits (EOB). The EOB will provide details on how your claim was processed including any deductible and coinsurance amounts, as well as any services that have been denied. Always compare your medical bill to the EOB to verify that the amount on your invoice reflects the amount your insurance company says you owe.

NOTE – Some providers and billing entities are very aggressive. They will send you a bill requesting payment while your insurance company is still processing your claim. Many people pay these bills without realizing that the amount they owe might be substantially less once processed by their insurance company. Look out for phrases such as “Due Now,” “Estimated Amount Due” or “Amount You May Owe.” Don’t get tricked by this sleazy tactic. Call the provider and ask for an invoice showing the insurance processing information. Verify with your health insurer whether you should pay the bill at that time.

  1. REQUEST AN ITEMIZED STATEMENT

It is very common for medical bills to only show a grand total of all items and services without providing a detailed breakdown of them. Errors are often made by the hospital or billing entities that can lead to duplicate or inflated charges– such as $20 for a box of tissues or $75 for a warm blanket.  Therefore, it is important to ask for an itemized statement of the medical so that you can make sure that you are only paying for the services and items provided to you.

  1. CHECK THE CODES

There is billing code (HCPS/CPT) for every medical procedure that is performed by the provider, as well as, diagnosis codes (ICD-10) for every medical condition. These codes are used nationwide in order to inform the insurers directly of what was done and how much it cost. They may appear on your invoice or EOB. There are some instances where coverage may be denied based upon the codes submitted. At times, the insurer may deem the procedure unjustified based on the diagnosis code submitted. Other times, the provider may have submitted the wrong code. Sometimes it is a combination of both. In all cases it is important for you to research the code(s) independently. If it is an issue with insurance coverage, you can request a reconsideration or file an appeal. If it is a provider error, contact them immediately and ask that they review, recode, and resubmit the claim to your health insurer.

Reviewing the codes on your medical bills from practitioners, hospitals, testing centers, laboratories, and other providers is a great way to be sure that your insurance company (and you via co-pays, deductibles, and coinsurance) is only paying for services you received. If you receive statements from either your provider or health insurance without the HCPS/CPT codes, contact them and request an itemized statement with codes.

  1. NEGOTIATE A REDUCTION

Once you have determined that there are no errors in the invoice and that your insurance company has paid its proper share, you might still have a bill that is larger than you can afford to pay at once (and, in many cases, that is just too large PERIOD)! You might try to negotiate a reduction in your medical debt or payment terms that are workable for you.  You can find resources on the internet (Health Care Blue Book, State websites, etc.) that will help assign a value to the services provided that is most common—and thus determine if you were overcharged. This information can be a valuable tool when negotiating with medical providers. Make your financial constraints known to them and ask for a discount. (Typically, paying a lump-sum is more likely to result in an adjustment to the bill. Generally, discounts are not given on accounts with a payment plan).

TIP- Many hospitals and some other providers offer a “Prompt Pay Discount,” if you pay at the time of discharge from the hospital.  They also have financial aid personnel to analyze whether you might be entitled to a discount based upon your income. However, even without a discount, a payment plan can be very helpful— allowing you to spread the payments out over a longer period that is more budget-friendly. If you are negotiating a payment plan remember to ask for zero interest. Also, remember that a medical provider can still report you to any of the three Credit Bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) while you are making payments. This is a detestable practice and should be avoided by having the provider state in writing that it will not report provided you are current in your payments.

  1. TAKE ACTION QUICKLY

Regardless of the size of the bill, it is very important to take care of it as soon as possible. The longer it remains unpaid, the more likely it is to be sent to a collection agency. New laws require hospitals to wait until six months from the date of service before you can be reported to any Credit Bureau. However, if that does occur, it can remain on your credit report for years- likely increasing your costs of buying a home, car, or increase credit card interest rates (nearly anything on borrowed credit).

TIP- You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the Credit Bureaus each year. We recommend that you obtain a credit report every four months. It should be reviewed for erroneous items or incorrect information. If you notice any errors on your report, you can dispute them with the Credit Bureau to have to removed. Learn more here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports

If you are having difficulty understanding your medical bills and/or health insurance Explanation of Benefits (EOB’s), contact one of our Board-Certified Patient Advocates at Human Health Advocates. We review medical bills and health insurance determinations. We negotiate reductions in medical debt from hospitals and other medical providers. We prepare insurance appeals for denied claims. If you have problems with your medical bills or health insurance, get in touch. WE CAN HELP!